Downtown crime crackdown boosting spirits: ‘It feels safer’
A week after an undercover drug bust around Westlake Park led to 31 arrests, merchants and residents are hopeful the open-air drug dealing and violence will give way to a trouble-free holiday shopping season.
Seattle Times staff reporter
At Westlake Park, the Christmas carousel is ready for the holiday season. Santa arrives in downtown Seattle twice on Friday, once in the morning parade and again at dusk to light the Macy’s star.
Outside the Seaboard Building on the eastern edge of the park, concierge Joseph Crudo, who was badly beaten here by a group of teenagers in July, is hopeful that an undercover bust of 31 suspected drug dealers and gang members last week will mean a trouble-free holiday.
“It feels cleaner down here. It feels safer,” said Crudo, a 26-year-old college student who watched with alarm last summer as open-air drug dealing and gang activity intensified in and around the park. “The gang members and criminals partied down here.”
A number of business and tourism leaders share Crudo’s sense of relief. They praised the bust by the Seattle Police Department, in cooperation with King County Sheriff’s Office’s Metro Transit police and other state and federal agencies.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle. “It doesn’t help Seattle’s brand if people come here and experience the streets as out of control.”
The undercover operation, dubbed “Happy Holidays,” netted one suspect with 12 prior felonies, four with nine priors and 17 with three prior felonies, said Detective Jeff Kappel, spokesman for SPD.
“These were heavy hitters, people who made a living by dealing drugs, people with violent records or gang activity,” he said.
Police have compiled cases against nine other suspects and there likely will be more arrests, he said.
King County prosecutors have filed felony drug charges against 19 and expect to file more in the coming days, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the office. Many will be arraigned Dec. 4, he said.
In addition to clearing downtown of many suspected drug dealers, police plan stepped-up foot patrols in the downtown shopping district through December. Kappel said the name of the undercover operation wasn’t cynical.
“We really mean happy holidays to all the good folks. We’re taking the bad guys off the street,” he said.
It’s an ongoing effort. On Monday night, a man with a mask and a gun boarded a bus at Third Avenue and Pike Street and robbed passengers.
Kate Joncas, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, said the drug bust showed that progress is being made against crime and disorder.
Her organization has been one of the members of the Center City Initiative, which aims to replace the revolving door of arrest and prosecution for low-level street offenders with outreach, social services and treatment options. The City Council’s 2014 budget includes money for expanded outreach and treatment services. And the police hope to hire as many as 52 new officers.
“Having a very effective drug-enforcement action right before the holidays shows that police and community are working together on the issue,” Joncas said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll now have the resources to focus on individual people to make a difference to the neighborhood.”
David Watkins, president of the Seattle Hotel Association and manager of Inn at the Market, walked Friday through Pike Place Market, up Pike Street, through Westlake and back along Third Avenue. While there were clearly people in need — drug addicts looking for a handout or for their dealer — the regular dealers and open-air drug sales were largely gone.
“This is good. This is better,” he said.
But later that day, a merchant on First Avenue said she saw a man giving instructions to two women “who looked like prostitutes,” about how to avoid being seen by the police.
“The answer for someone running a prostitution ring isn’t treatment,” said Linda Rio, a sales associate at Beyond Threads, a women’s designer clothing store. “It’s not going to get better without a visible police presence.”
At the Seaboard Building at Fourth and Pike, concierge Crudo surveys the mix of people passing through the park, some homeless youth with backpacks, some business people on their way to lunch. A 13-year-old boy has been charged in the July assault that left Crudo with a broken arm, broken nose, concussion and knee injury. He has filed a $450,000 claim against the city, alleging it was negligent in allowing the lawlessness at Westlake Park to go on for so long.
“I don’t see any of the usual characters,” he said, looking to where the carousel was being readied for the holiday season at the opposite end of the park.
“Now it’s the public’s turn to fill it up with good people.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes